Changeling Heart and the New Moon
Arcs of green electricity roamed across the body of princess Luna, crackling and sputtering as they coalesced at Chrysalis’ horn and lit up the Queen of changelings’ face. The only part of her wide eyes to move were the reflections of eldritch light, and she did not take them from the fallen princess as she moved with feeble twitches in the dirt.
The air thrummed with energy, but Chrysalis barely noticed it, or the changelings that had crept closer to the spectacle. The core of her attention was on Luna. Or to be more specific, in Luna. The princess’s eyes were tightly shut as the arcs continued their seething dance across her body. More than once a band of energy writhed across her eyelids, and Chrysalis felt a grudging admiration for the alicorn’s determination; she was essentially making this process up as she went along yet Luna clung to consciousness.
It was commendable. And annoying. If Luna would just black out Chrysalis could have a much easier time of running rampant across her heart, sampling and touching everything. But no, Luna just had to hold on by the skin of her teeth. So long as she did, Luna guided the Queen of changelings’ efforts, presenting one exquisitely convoluted love, shielding another.
Chrysalis couldn’t be annoyed for long. She closed her focus around the shape of another of Luna’s heart aching loves. This one seethed like a storm cloud and the changeling readied herself to grasp it. No wonder the princess wanted to be free of it. Luna’s presence was little more than a flickering candlelight, but she paid as close attention as she could. The Queen could probably break through every wall Luna held in place now, but refrained from doing so.
“We can stop now if you want, little moon,” Chrysalis said through a grin. She wanted Luna to cave in on her own, to admit that involving the Queen of changelings in the princess crisis put Luna in way over her head with no easy way out.
Luna’s breath wheezed as more electric currents slithered along her body. “No. Keep going,” she whispered.
This pony was proving to be no end of interest. Chrysalis sunk her proverbial claws in and Luna gasped, wincing away from the shock.
This was the third such love to be exercised, but Luna looked just as surprised as she had the first time Chrysalis’ power had pinched off a piece of her heart and snipped it away.
Each came with distinct impressions. It was as frustrating and tantalizing as trying to decipher the brush strokes of a masterpiece by touch without sight, yet Chrysalis enjoyed herself immensely. This tempestuous love she pried away flared with tastes of anger, outrage and conflict. It amazed her that the love hadn’t been burned away by the deep seated spite bound to it, but there it was all the same, like a field of flowers atop a volcano.
The arcs of power began to tighten together. The jittering lights centred over Luna’s heart and sank into her body. A moment passed in quiet, and Luna managed a weak smile.
“That is the last,” she whispered, just as a flash of light came from within her and she coughed violently.
A jewel spilled from Luna’s lips and rolled away from her, but the princess had already fallen into the deep, dreamless sleep of the utterly exhausted.
Chrysalis drew the little thing close with magic, along with its two siblings. These were... unexpected byproducts, to say the least. Sure, Chrysalis had been improvising all along, but she hadn’t thought magic would be so literal about all this. You cut away a piece of ‘heart,’ and then the poor girl went and actually coughed up the damn thing. Apparently, what the queen had taken out had had to come out as well.
She regarded the sleeping alicorn before her. “Come to me,” she called softly into the dark.
Several changelings emerged, the foremost muttering a little squeak. “ ‘mm Queen?”
Well, she couldn’t just leave a princess lying on her floor like a lump. “Take her. Gently.”
The changelings looked to their little group’s accidental leader, who in turn glanced back over its shoulder. Clearly, Luna’s words still rang through all their heads. and there were a lot more changelings behind these few. “We feed?” it asked, and it was the first time Chrysalis had ever heard hesitation at the prospect of a rich feeding, especially in the present shortage.
“No-” her changelings looked relieved- “put her somewhere comfortable... Put her with our other ponies. A princess should be with her subjects, after all.”
The changelings blinked and nodded. Between them, their magic lifted the limp form of Luna from the ground and gently carted her towards one of the green-lit alcoves.
The three jewels shined, drawing Chrysalis’ eye once more. The first to appear had been almost entirely black, and the inky colour flowed endlessly as it tried to drown out the few spots of milky white that simply refused to perish. The ‘taste’ it wafted was a selfish, avaricious freedom.
The second to emerge suffused simple yearning. Chrysalis had tasted enough unrequited love in her time to recognize it instantly, a river of affection running endlessly downhill, never returning or resting. Luna’s though... her’s was as immense and directionless as the ocean. Its motions were as subtle as the tides, and yet Chrysalis suspected the sheer weight of it had crushed down upon her. For how long? What pony could elicit such love and be so callous, so ignorant of it?
No wonder the Queen of changelings had thought of water; this gem was the deep blue of frozen seas. Between the black and stormy gray, the stillness of it seemed especially sad.
Quiet minutes passed as she examined her strange prizes. She could feel the strength trickle into her, yet the usual power trip and thrill of it was offset by a thoughtfulness of the kind Chrysalis did not often experience. Suddenly everything had become interesting.
“Well,” Chrysalis began. She wanted to say something quippish and snappy, something to lighten her mood from this morose introspection. Luna was her enemy, after all. She shouldn’t be sympathetic. The Queen grumbled under her breath before her body erupted in a gout of green flame.
Chrysalis stood every inch as Luna, striking melodramatic poses. “Oh no, I’m Luna, the little moon princess! Big bad Chrysalis is going to eat me! Whatever shall I do with myself? I’m so emotionally cut up that I’m entirely incapable of effectively leading Equestria, Oh no!”
The jewels proved a very tough crowd. Had the Queen been on a stage, she’d not even have earned herself a sad rimshot. The Luna-thing held a hopeful pose, only prolonging the miserable existence of the the awkward moment. Another flash of green flame tore across Chrysalis’ body and the changeling stood, slightly sullen in her lonesome once more.
“Well,” she said again with a sigh. Her sense of humour probably suffered for living in a hole under a tree in a forest in the middle of nowhere. “What?” she said with angry embarrassment as two of her subjects hesitantly approached from the shadows.
“ ‘mm Queen? ‘nt to see this?” one burbled in its high pitched grumble.
“See what?” Chrysalis snapped, her changelings recoiled and twitched their wings nervously at her raised voice. She felt a little guilty. And surprised. Changelings were not known for being complex or sensitive creatures, but the alicorn’s arrival had unsettled them more than either royal could have expected.
“ ‘e princess.”
“She was put into a harvest pod, as I said?”
“ ‘s. ‘is what you should see.” It sounded worried, and a hint frantic.
“I will decide what I need to see.” The effect of the statement was lost on the two blank faces of the changelings. She stared at them. They stared back.
“ ‘u decided yet, Queen?” one asked tentatively.
Chrysalis shut her eyes and sighed. If Luna, little reclusive Luna had said something like that to her pony subjects, she’d have gotten some kind of fear and respect. Something proper for royalty, not this patient waiting, whatever it was. The princess was locked up and unconscious in a harvest pod and was still getting more fear and respect.
“Come on then. Show me what she’s up to.”
The jewels slowly orbited above Chrysalis’ head as she followed the little changelings. Once or twice she caught her subjects glancing up at them, but she was in no mood for sharing. They were certainly nourishing, but strange as well - like the food of a vastly different culture. She still couldn’t wrap her proverbial tongue around the flavours yet, and took it in slowly.
It wasn’t as if they could be used up. Love didn’t work that way, being an intangible state of being and all that. A changeling no more used up the love they fed on than a plant used up the sun by basking in it. Of course, plants were always shading one another and blocking that precious stream of sunlight. Just because it was limitless didn’t make it infinite. The same could be said of the changelings’ nature. It was the root of their present rationing and shortage. Trying to feed everyone was like trying to grow a crop by moonlight. Well it is, Chrysalis thought to herself.
It wasn’t far to the harvest pods. The eerie green light of the alcove spilled out her hooves with the reassurance that they weren’t starving yet.
The Queen of changelings rounded the corner. Quite the crowd had formed around the newest and largest pod - there were always a few coming to bask in the ambient love of ponies - and Chrysalis was about to speak when it hit her, and her face fell into the same stupefied amazement as were upon her subjects.
It was true that changelings couldn’t read minds, they could feel love and infer something from that. Chrysalis had been quite proud of her metaphor as someone who had only ever seen a painting in the halls of Canterlot, but gauging a mind by feeling the heart was like considering artwork... except that Luna was painting a picture extremely loudly.
The affection was a palpable wave coming off her. Had she been hungrier, Chrysalis might’ve given in entirely and basked her fill, but the jewels had filled her with enough odd tasting loves for now.
Frankly, the Queen was amazed her subjects hadn’t gone into a feeding frenzy, fighting one another for a place in the glow. But no, they sat nervously and quietly, too enticed to resist a taste but too fearful to gorge themselves. Chrysalis had never seen such respect for a pony out of them before, especially not one already bundled up in a pod.
There were other ponies around. Ill fated explorers. Wanderers. Runaways. All types, about a dozen, united in the silly grins showing through the translucent green flaps of the harvest pods. Of them all, the changelings only had eyes for Luna.
Luna floated in a pod so fresh it still glistened with moisture. Her mane and tail, which confused Chrysalis to no end and provoked a spark or two of envy, rippled softly against the containment. Her eyes were shut and her mouth drawn into a calm, warm smile.
Chrysalis had never been particularly troubled by that pesky itch known as morality, but even so the nature of the pods reassured an unspoken corner of her own crusty heart. Love was the food of changelings and so, in an entirely selfish manner, they gave their prisoners the most conducive environment possible for feeling it.
In short, the pods made one dream of everything they loved. It wasn’t a cruel existence. If anything, it was wonderful. What else in the world could dream of what it loved without end? Never waking. Never responsible. Never knowing.
And in the heart of it, Luna practically glowed. Usually it was all the same - family and friends, lovers, memories. Wherever love could be a changeling could feed, and they made no opinions or judgements of it. Oblivious to it all, Luna smiled dreamily.
More changelings came, each as quiet and humble as Chrysalis had ever seen them. For a moment she wondered if Luna might’ve have underestimated herself, that she couldn’t feed them all. Probably not... but it was an enticing thought. The Queen would have to organize a census sometime. ‘Hundreds, or maybe a thousand and some hundreds’ was not a very precise number to work with.
More changelings came. Chrysalis realized that entirely without her prompting or desire this had become some sort of civic event, or ritual of some kind. She watched, but made no move to direct or control it.
The Queen of changelings was surprised, not for the first time that evening. Times hadn’t been this bad since... well, ever. Expansion and invasion had grown hot on the brain like a fever and when they had tried it for themselves, the changelings had been knocked right back down a few pegs. Chrysalis had considered cockiness and selfishness rather normal and healthy behaviour, but now she couldn’t help but wonder.
Who needed values or culture when you had what you needed and could take what you wanted? Except now the changelings couldn’t do either. She was loathe to admit, but Luna had hit the bullseye calling out the Queen on her pride and duty. Leading in the good times was hardly leading at all. It was easy.
Some more nervous changelings filed into the alcove, carefully balancing bundles between the membranes of their wings as the crowd shuffled out of their way.
Swaddled young ones. Six, the Queen counted. They didn’t mewl or move much, they just rested in their wraps. It wasn’t the rest of a baby that had been well at play earlier and needed a happy sleep. No, it was the tiredness of a child that hadn’t had the energy to play at all.
These were put at the base of Luna’s pod, and the others gave them as much space as the pressing numbers allowed for. Her great height allowed Chrysalis to see from her place nearer the back, but she stood as just one more in the crowd. Whatever was happening, this was new to her.
It was new for the young ones too. They blinked their oversized eyes and stretched tiny limbs as if someone had called to them from a distance. They had the blank puzzlement of babies everywhere.
One of the caretakers stepped forward “Um,” the lithe little changeling nervously broke the silence, her voice softer and higher than usual, “this is Night Light.” She gestured to the nearest swaddled child, than hastily retreated into the crowd.
It wasn’t as if Chrysalis was the only changeling to have a name. They all did. It just wasn’t a convention that changelings applied much meaning to, and a changeling just picked up whatever name happened to come their way and stick. Somehow, there was no doubting that this one would stick like white on... well, on the moon.
Soon more carers were stepping forwards. Quick to join the newly named Night Light were Moon Beam, Harvest Moon, Tranquility, Starry Sky and Lunatic. Chrysalis was definitely noticing a pattern, but when the last nervous little carer glanced her way the Queen of changelings managed a reassuring nod.
Whatever magic had held the crowd dissolved. At about the same time, every changeling started wondering just what had been going on, and if they might not have something better to do, preferably where things weren’t so weird. Besides, there had been plenty going on already for one night. Chrysalis couldn’t agree more and waited impatiently as the groups broke off and drifted away. Everything about Luna was just getting curiouser and curiouser.
Soon enough the Queen stood alone with her hostage. Or guest. Or whatever - she wasn’t sure - while Luna floated on, blissful in one of those loves she had chosen to keep for herself.
“You named six of my subjects’ children just now. Do you know that?” Of course she didn’t, but somehow, her enemy was the one Chrysalis kept speaking her thoughts to. “You’re a source of food, wrapped up tight and sleeping, and everyone is tiptoeing around you. Why is that?” She prodded the squishy membrane of the pod with her hoof. “What makes you special, little moon?”
The pod rippled like jelly under her touch, and the emanations of love quieted. The princess had turned a drooping, happy eye on the Queen, but for all that Chrysalis found it too hard to match. She glanced away.
“Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.” Chrysalis laughed quietly to herself as she strode off to her own rest, the three jewels bobbing through the air behind her.